LINGUIST List 9.716

Thu May 14 1998

Disc: Recent Change in English

Editor for this issue: Elaine Halleck <>


  1. Ralf Vollmann, Disc: Language Change
  2. Michael Newman, between and among
  3. DUBARTELL, Re: 9.701, Disc: Recent Change in English
  4. Dennis Baron, Re: 9.702, Disc: Recent changes in English

Message 1: Disc: Language Change

Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 12:14:20 +0200
From: Ralf Vollmann <>
Subject: Disc: Language Change

... "while neither being a specialist nor having done any work on the
subject", ... and while neither having noticed nor having seemed to
remark any changes in english, i have to state the following: 

what I find most striking in this discussion is the fact how many
linguists still argue in terms of norm and prescriptive patterns. that
prescriptive patterns usually diverge from the language use seems quite
obvious to me, this topic is the basis of the everyday work of a
sociolinguist, if i remember correctly. one could look at the linguistic
differences between sociolects or at the attitudes linguist list readers
have towards these sociolectal features. it has nothing to do with
language change, however.

on the other hand, analyses of why american girlies, oregoners or
"venerable brits" have an identifiable sociolect would be very
interesting. the same, whether PL-SG dissonances between noun and verb
point to transnumeral use, or whether in an area there is another aspect
system than the prescribed one, etc..

i deny the possibility to observe language change "online", and i think
an analysis of the situation justifies my viewpoint:

1. prescriptive grammar has a strong influence on a society where
everybody has to attend school. one might see e.g. in the ongoing german
orthographic reform, that under such circumstances, language change
phenomena are not considered as they are in the prescriptive rule
patchwork of the orthography, but one set of prescriptions is simply
replaced by another one, and whether it is accepted or not, is not
decided on the basis of language change phenomena, but on the basis of
social power.

2. sociolectal variants can become language change features under
identifiable sociological circumstances; e.g. when an ingroup defines
itself through a linguistic feature and an outgroup individual wants to
become an ingroup member, then exactly there is a change in the
linguistic attitude of this person. if a feature is not redefined for a
longer period of time, then it may loose its socially marked status and
become a regular feature in this idiom. As long as the ingroup still
exists as such, it will desperately look for another feature.

As the euramerican culture is a patriarchat, i would thus assume that
although a girl that wants to be a girlie and therefore adopts a speech
style identifiable as an ingroup feature of the girlie subculture, she
will succeed in being identified as a girlie, but she will not introduce
language change into english, because she lacks the power of definition
over the whole culture. in this case it is a form of self-stigmatisation
as a member of the girlie ingroup for herself and a group-defining
feature on the border of the group, and an identifying feature within. 

if american academics, however, more and more often "commit the sin", as
it was said, to use a linguistic pattern formerly being a feature not
identified socially as a feature identifying upper class ingroup
members, it may perhaps become such a feature, if the individuals
committing the sin start to believe that it is only a little sin,
perhaps no sin at all. in this case, acceptability prepares for
grammaticality, and we might propose to see a language change happening.

most of the time, however, and not only -- between the lines -- in this
discussion, variants are used for stigmatisation, i.e. as negative
features, i.e. variants are defined as features of the outgroup --
whereas the ingroup as the norm not to be questioned has no features --
or it has the feature of not having a specific feature... similarly, the
so-called language change phenomena in question have been positively or
negatively evaluated by those observing them, i.e. these were cases of
the observation of sociolinguistic variation and not of language change.

best regards, 

ralf vollmann

institute of linguistics, university of graz, merangasse 70, A-8010
graz, austria, +43/316/380-2419,,
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: between and among

Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 09:03:23 -0500
From: Michael Newman <>
Subject: between and among

There appears to be a variation on the Golden Age of Language myth,
that leads to a belief that venerable nonprescriptive forms and usages
are innovations. This may explain Gerald B Mathias's surprise that
the use of between for more than two objects is attested in the last
century. It's interesting on this point that Henry Fowler, often felt
to be the archprescriptivist, considered the notion that "among" was
the correct preposition to use for more than two was a 'superstition.'
He quoted the OED for support on this idea. In spite of Fowler's
prestige in prescriptive circles, the idea that "with a small party of
miners on board who carried about a million and a half dollars in gold
between them..." is wrong lives on among those determined to get
upset about what they read and hear. In fact, in an American edition
of Fowler's usage guide what original author considered a superstition
is listed as the only correct usage: Connecticut is among New York,
Long Island Sound, Rhode Island, and Massachussets. hmm. Of course
that wasn't their example.

Similarly, I've noticed a folk-linguistic belief that the use of
singular THEY is new and responds to the complaints of sexism typical
of the modern age. This usage is actually attested in Middle English.
Of course, the folk linguists may be right insofar as it is less
censured these days and so may be appearing in places it may not have
earlier in the century.

I think Karen Courtenay's objections to lack of parallel constructions also
fall into this category.
>Do you live in Japan and are looking for a summer job teaching
>Japanese there? Does anybody have experience with analysis of
>Homepages and can give me some advice?

I think this is just bad writing, something which can hardly be considered
an innovation of any kind.

I leave as an open question whether there once was a Golden Age of Writing,
when such things would be less likely to appear in print.

Michael Newman 
Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics 
Dept. of Linguistics and Communications Disorders 
Queens College/CUNY Flushing,
NY 11367
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: 9.701, Disc: Recent Change in English

Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 09:19:50 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: 9.701, Disc: Recent Change in English

Hello All,

One of the changes I've noticed lately is the use of derived nouns.
For example, the state police recently closed a section of I-90 in
Erie, PA because a multiple accident caused a chemical spill. One of
the network (tv) newcasters talked about the I-90 "closure"
(vs. 'closing'). At a conference, a colleague inquired as to what
"methodology" I used (vs. 'method').There are many examples: Did you
take your medication? (vs. 'medicine'), The proper "usage" of the toy
(vs. 'use'), He went to great "expenditure" (vs. 'expense'). I've
most often noticed these cases during television/radio news
broadcasts. Does anyone know of published research in this area?

Deborah DuBartell

Deborah DuBartell, Ph.D.
Linguistics Program
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Edinboro, PA 16444 USA
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 4: Re: 9.702, Disc: Recent changes in English

Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 09:31:23 -0500
From: Dennis Baron <>
Subject: Re: 9.702, Disc: Recent changes in English

Joining this thread late, as a way of avoiding grading those last six
term papers. One thing that strikes me as most interesting about these
posts is not so much that we as linguists like to notice change and
try to figure what's going on--it's that many of us are quick to say
the change is a change for the worse. Is it a or an? Is parallel
structure dead (was it ever alive)? Is slang language or just an
exception? Scratch a descriptive languist and it seems to me what you
get is attitude. And before anyone jumps on me, let me say that I find
this situation absolutely NORMAL. We do have attitude and it would be
hypocritical to pretend otherwise. The interesting thing is how to
factor attitude into description and into linguistic production.


Dennis Baron, Head		<italic>phone: </italic>217-333-2390

Department of English		<italic>fax: </italic>217-333-4321

University of Illinois		<italic>email: </italic>

608 S. Wright Street

Urbana, IL 61801
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue